By David Worboys •
Updated: 13 Jul 2023 • 10:27
It´s easy to determine the most successful female tennis player
For just two weeks every year, the English take an interest in tennis and start making comparisons.
It is impossible to conclude who is the greatest tennis player of all time. We know that Steffi Graf had the measure of three other all-time greats, Navratilova, Seles and Williams, which suggests (but does not prove), that she was the greatest female player. We also know from all the statistics (apart from the number of Grand Slam triumphs) that she was unquestionably the greatest achiever – the Nanny-GOAT. This is not necessarily the same thing as the greatest player.
With the men it is more complicated. Four of the six front contenders were at their peak in the same era. Predictably, as soon as Djokovic overtook Nadal in Grand Slam (Major) titles, he was hailed as the greatest male player of all time (the GOAT). He was the same player the day before the Roland Garros final. A day later, Nadal was no longer considered the greatest, simply because injury prevented him from competing in the French – which he probably would have won.
In fact, there are many factors, apart from the number of Major titles, that determine a player´s greatness. The number of weeks at world number 1, the number of year-ends finishing as number 1 (both Djokovic); the total number of singles titles and calendar Grand Slams (both Rod Laver), the number of Major titles as a ratio of those contested (Sampras) ….
And then there are circumstantial factors. Laver won the calendar year Grand Slam in 1962 and 1969. During the intermittent six years he was not eligible for the Majors because he had turned professional. He thus missed out on 24 Slams. Bearing in mind his dominance both before and after the ban, it is reasonable to assume that he would have won at least half of them to add to his tally of 11, giving a minimum total of 23.
Injuries have wrought havoc with statistical achievements. For a while, Andy Murray was outplaying Federer, Nadal and Djokovic. Then his career became hampered by persistent injuries, meaning that, despite being on a level with the other three GOATS, he won only four Majors. Likewise, Nadal has been denied several titles, including Roland Garros, through injury.
Djokovic overcame the ban from the Australian Open in 2022, an event he almost would certainly have won. At the time it seemed this would prevent him catching Nadal but he returned and simply carried on winning.
The conclusion is that, significant as Grand Slam successes are, they only tell part of the story. I guess it becomes subjective. Isn´t the greatest player the one whose tennis we most like to watch? And this depends whether we like raw power or finesse; serve-and-volley or great rallies. We should be thankful for the Billy-GOATS such as Laver, Sampras, and the “Big Four”. Meanwhile, all eyes are on Alcaraz.
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